The pancake-products brand known for 130 years as Aunt Jemima—and criticized for that name for almost as long—has announced a name change. Beginning in June, the brand will be called Pearl Milling Co.
This is a back-to-the-future choice in all the best ways. Pearl Milling Co. of St. Joseph, Missouri, was the name of the company that invented the first self-rising pancake mix, in 1889. A year later, the company was sold, and in 1893 the new owners changed the name of the product from “Pearl Milling self-rising pancake mix” to “Aunt Jemima pancake flour” and embarked on an extensive advertising and publicity campaign, complete with a living mascot portrayed by Nancy Green, a woman who had been born into slavery. Quaker Oats bought the company in 1926, and Quaker was gobbled up in turn by PepsiCo in 2001.
PepsiCo announced the change in a press release that leads with this paragraph:
We are committed to progress, which includes both removing the image of Aunt Jemima and changing our name. Aunt Jemima has existed for more than 130 years, and we acknowledge that our origins were based on a racial stereotype. While work has been done over the years to evolve our brand in a manner intended to be appropriate and respectful, we realize that those changes are not enough.
By reaching back into brand history for the new name, PepsiCo is honoring the brand’s heritage while allowing space for growth and change. It’s an added benefit that “Pearl,” like “Jemima,” is a woman’s name that’s just as old-fashioned but not freighted with racist overtones. (I’m imagining that consumers will eventually start referring to Pearl Milling Co. products simply as “Pearl.” The alliteration of pearl and pancake? Another bonus.)
Naturally—inevitably—there has been some protest. There is always protest when a brand name is changed, because most people don’t like change, and some people are especially prickly about any change that appears to represent yielding to pressure. (Check out the replies to this Wall Street Journal tweet if you want a sense of how that’s going.)
I have two responses to the protests: 1) You’ll get used to it. The more we’re exposed to something new, the more we’re inclined to like it—even if we hated it at first. 2) This is a correct, long-overdue move on PepsiCo’s part.
Read my June 2020 post about Aunt Jemima, which includes a more detailed history of the brand and its imagery.